Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Can A Co-operative Be A Part Of The Market System ??

I take the view that mutualism and co-operation can be, and should be, an essential element of a new free enterprise economy, one where monopoly, big banks, big corporations and big government do not hold sway.

The essence of co-operation is that enterprise serves the common needs of the stakeholders in that enterprise, be it an enterprise selling groceries, providing welfare, or holding our hard-earned money.

Workers are stakeholders. And their input (following the strictures of common need and the philosophy of labor exchange inherent in mutualism) should be one of exchange of labor for money and benefits.

Within my own co-operative, Weaver Street Market, what I have always wanted and campaigned for is the return in exchange for my labor that was promised to me in my first orientation in 2005:

** A living wage (which in NC is about $12-$13 for a single person; $15-$17 for a person with family).

** Health coverage (for which I pay).

** The opportunity to receive reward for my productivity (though worker-ownership; which is still too expensive, at $500 buy-in).

** The right to engage in the decision-making that affects my workplace (which I do not have, because the corporate office management team rig the worker-owner Director elections, and have stifled any other form of worker discussion).

Leaving aside the fact that my own co-operative has been brainwashed by the corporatism of a few at the top, the model is one that works, if only those at the top would trust the model.

More to the point, it is a model that is based on free trade. Or should be. I freely trade my labor in exchange for benefits that I define. Er. Or should define.

The temporary failure in my co-op is not a failure of co-operation. Nor is it proof that co-operation is essentially socialist, rather than free trade and free market. No. It is a testament to what happens to co-operation, free trade and the free flow of a true market when corporatism (whether private or public) smothers such free enterprise. As this article below underlines with reference to the wider British economy.

There is one issue on which I differ with some of my mutualist friends. I say that co-operation is also essentially capitalist. They disagree.

There can be endless esoteric discussion and definition. But, my bottom line is that you have an enterprise. It has to be owned by someone. It should be owned only by the stakeholders – those who produce for it, buy from it and work in it.

At the end of the day, that ownership is itself a free trade – of money for benefit. It matters not whether you make that trade as part of labor or a part of consumption, or as a completely separate exercise. It is still a trade that is not a part of the formal consumer or labor trade.

In the case of worker-ownership in WSM, a defined part of each hour that you work (defined by you, over a period of time chosen by you) is set aside to pay for the initial stake in the co-op. Return by way of annual dividend is then based upon the hours that you have worked. I see this as being essentially a trade of benefit for labor, which is, therefore, mutualist.

The money set aside (call it whatever you like; over time, it has come to be called capital) is then used to build the co-operative. Not to pay for the cost of food, or provide the shopper with a bag. But grow the co-op. Either the money itself. Or funds borrowed using the capital as collateral.

Now the mutual purists would argue that borrowing of itself renders an enterprise non-mutualist. But why? Lending is merely another free trade, where the trade is services for money.

You can’t have any company, even a co-operative that does not allow funds for growth and/or maintenance of the basic infrastructure. Those funds have to come from the stakeholders. Simply because we call that free exchange ‘capitalism’ (money for growth/maintenance, in exchange for return on such growth/maintenance) shouldn’t render the trade as being outside of the definition of ‘mutualism.’

All of that esoteria aside, the beauty of co-operation, what sets it apart from the monopolistic, crony capitalism that caused The Great Crash of 2008, is that you can neither speculate nor accumulate with a co-operative.

You are allowed only one share each. You have to be a real, living, breathing, menstruating, my-body-is-mine, non-corporate human being to own a share. You can’t have more than one share. And you can’t sell it to anyone else. You can only redeem it with the co-operative.

That is what makes co-operation a perfect building block for a new economy; one that avoids the boom-bust despair of destructive accumulation and speculation (by a few at the expense of the rest); one that allows the many to benefit from their own efforts without interference from poisonous outside (and inside) influences; and one which incorporates mutualism, capitalism, free trade and free enterprise all in the same model. It is the future, today …